For film lovers, the end of each year brings with it certainty and hope — certainty that the coming year cannot boast better offerings than the one before, and hope that somehow the certainty is misguided and the coming year will show us what for. 2010 has proven to be no exception, serving up a Coen-stamped Western remake; a stunning neo-noir set in the forbidding, chilly Ozarks; a mind-warping, reality-bending tale of dreams within dreams from the creator of “Memento”; a bluntly comic and real story about a marriage that’s thoroughly average; and more, so much more.
It’s also the year that gave us Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson sporting a tutu, a fourth Shrek film and a movie where grown women dress up like circus clowns (and never sweat) in the middle of the desert, but, hey, what can you do?
Here is one reviewer’s list of the true treasures 2010 — some usual suspects with, I hope, a few surprises thrown in:
From “The Bill Engvall Show” to “Winter’s Bone” — the tale of young actress Jennifer Lawrence’s rise is an unusual one. But her fiery performance in Debra Granki’s second film ought to wipe clean the memory of that unfortunate TBS show. As Ree Dolly, a 17-year-old holding her broken family together and searching in earnest for her court-skipping dad, Lawrence is amazing. And that’s not even counting the stellar support character actor John Hawkes and relative no-name Dale Dickey provide as Ree’s suspicious, self-contained kin in the Ozarks. “Winter’s Bone” is neo-noir like you’ve never seen it before.
Colin Firth’s loss to Jeff Bridges at the 2009 Oscars left a bad taste in the mouths of Firth’s many fans, and even some of Bridges’. “The King’s Speech” could be Firth’s redemption, for it features a performance (as King George VI, of all people) that’s no less droll, poignant and sometimes excruciatingly painful to watch. The actor’s piquant sparring matches with Geoffrey Rush — particularly those profanity-laden rants — are delightful and moving, while Helena Bonham Carter breaks out of her Tim Burton box. With some uncharacteristically claustrophobic cinematography thrown in, “The King’s Speech” is the total package.
3. “Black Swan”
The human mind is capable of unspeakable darkness — a fact most directors endeavor to ignore or shy away from or hide. Darren Aronofsky has embraced these depths in every film he’s made, but “Black Swan” might be his darkest work yet. Part character study, part tragedy, part psychological thriller and part near-Gothic horror film, “Black Swan” is all feeling and no restraint. That goes double for the lead performance of Natalie Portman, who rips herself in two so forcefully we’re left wondering if normal life is a possibility after this.
In 2009, “The Hurt Locker” pushed a different kind of message about war: It is a drug. Sebastian Junger and Tim Hetherington’s documentary “Restrepo,” about the year the two spent on assignment in Afghanistan with the Second Platoon, B Company, 2nd Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment (airborne) of the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team, can’t be boiled down to a slogan. It’s more a real-time, live-action depiction not of the hell of war but of the hell war leaves behind, reflected painfully in the eyes of real soldiers, not actors.
If there are limits to the imagination, Christopher Nolan does not know them, or refuses to acknowledge them. His films scramble about reality to the point it starts to look like visions, or dreams, or nightmares, or all of the above. “Inception” stands as his grandest undertaking, a true stretching of everything viewers expect about effects, cinematography and, well, gravity, in cinema. Nolan takes his actors — and us — so far into the world of dreams that we’re afraid to go to sleep. Or is it that we’re really afraid to wake up?
6. “True Grit”
If 2010 was the year of breakout young’un performances, Jennifer Lawrence ought to count Hailee Steinfeld as fierce competition for roles to come. Steinfeld blazed into filmgoers’ collective consciousness with her turn as vengeful, quick-witted Mattie Ross in the Coen brothers’ remake of “True Grit.” She fills up the screen with presence, even holding her own alongside Bridges, who makes Rooster Cogburn a dirtier, smellier sort of cowboy, Matt Damon, Josh Brolin and Barry Pepper. She’s so good it takes you awhile to realize the movie she’s in is good enough to deserve her.
7. “Cairo Time”
Patricia Clarkson has long been the darling of independent films where all the meaningful emotional transactions take place under the surface, not on top of it. In “Cairo Time,” she’s given the leading role and a leading man — Alexander Siddig — entirely capable of matching her quiet intensity and expressive face. As two strangers thrown together by chance and surprised by the force of their chemistry, Siddig and Clarkson make Ruba Nadda’s mature, unforced love story set in Cairo crackle with unexpressed passion and rich, complex feeling.
The sunset carriage ride, the goofy smiles and balmy honeymoons — “The Kids Are All Right” is interested in none of that foolishness. Instead, Lisa Cholodenko takes us into the uncertain and problematic middle, where old resentments turn new again and the feeling of being settled can inspire fear, not comfort. Julianne Moore and Annette Bening, as married moms of two teen-agers searching for their biological father, find the little aches and gripes, the angry mutters and the snippets of joy found in every married couple’s day-to-day existence. Plus a gay porno or two.
9. “Solitary Man”
Even when he’s played the straight man, the hero, there’s always been a tantalizing air of caddishness about Michael Douglas that sneaks into the frames. He is suave and seductive without much discernible effort — qualities scriptwriter/director Brian Koppleman highlights in “Solitary Man,” the tale of a man in the winter of his life who uses a health scare as an excuse to scam his customers and philander his way out of his marriage and into a life spent chasing tail. And Douglas makes it all look so … unapologetically Douglas we can’t help but root for him.
10. “The Social Network”
David Fincher and Aaron Sorkin wanted to make a movie about the guy who created Facebook. Now that film has been slapped with any number of grandiose labels, including “the voice of a generation.” Whether “The Social Network” fills that role is a matter of opinion; in the simplest terms, though, it is a well-acted and well-executed drama — and a tense, ominous one — about one of the most influential figures in recent memory. The fact that he’s not a terribly likable guy? Well, that just makes “The Social Network” all the more interesting.
Honorable mentions: “Shutter Island” (for the score, cinematography and a brilliant ensemble cast); “The Fighter” (for the strength of Melissa Leo, Amy Adams and Christian Bale’s performances); “Toy Story 3” (for bringing the best finale to a trilogy in, well … maybe ever); “Iron Man 2” (for the flat-out awesome smackdown between Whiplash and Iron Man at the Grand Prix; also Mickey Rourke’s 1,000 pronunciations of the word “bird”)
Special considerations: “Biutiful,” “Blue Valentine” — neither of which has been released in the Carolinas
Filed under: List-o-matic Tagged: | Best films of 2010, Black Swan, Cairo Time, Inception, Restrepo, Solitary Man, The Kids Are All Right, The King's Speech, The Social Network, True Grit, Winter's Bone